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NEWS

Comment Fire protection is firmly established in our everyday world and even enshrined in codes or regulations, yet fire-related tragedies and fire incidents are still occurring. The reasons – well known – could be down to improperly fitted or unsuitable passive fire systems; that the fire protection elements have become so taken for granted that they have become vulnerable to budget cuts; or that they are simply not there. Jim Pauley’s state-of-the-nation opening of the NFPA’s annual conference and expo (p.53) did not pull its punches in apportioning the blame for this unhappy status quo, and even for some of the tragedies that had taken place over the last year. The causes of many fire-related tragedies, Pauley noted, could be traced back to the failure of one or more of the eight critical elements of the fire safety ecosystem, which include government responsibility, use of reference standards, a skilled workforce, and preparedness and emergency response. Amongst other things, he highlighted that the fire industry has forgotten that safety is a system, not a single piece of equipment. The picture painted by the NFPA president is concerning when placed in the context of the period of transformation that fire safety faces as a result of advancements in technology, such as in the realm of IP integration (p44-47) of building management and fire systems. The potential improvement in safety – managed evacuation, for instance – may indeed constitute a quantum leap. But one wonders whether the long-term challenges will change with these developments. Will the same factors that afflict current technology, be it budget cuts, lack of resources, or the ‘taken-for-granted’ element, return once the new systems lose their shine? And what can be done to ensure this does not happen?

Researchers have developed a practical and inexpensive way to help prevent lithium-ion battery fires. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in consumer electronics and are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. These incidents have lead to serious consequences, including burns, house fires and at least one plane crash. In a lithium-ion battery, a thin piece of plastic separates the two (Photo: Gabriel Veith) electrodes. If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire. The latest solution involves inserting an additive in the conventional electrolyte. When the battery is struck, the additive solidifies and prevents the electrodes from touching and causing a fire. Researchers found that the solidifying effect could be achieved by adding silica in the liquid electrolytes because on impact the silica particles clump together and block the flow of fluids and ions. During testing, the researchers used perfectly spherical, 200-nanometer-diameter particles of silica. It is thought that incorporating the superfine sand would require only minor adjustments to the conventional battery-manufacturing process. The results of the latest research were presented at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society last month. The project is being supported by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Jose Maria Sanchez de Muniain, Editor

The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) has published a new set of guidelines for the supply and transport of hazardous materials. The guidelines detail the fundamental requirements of an emergency response service and aim to help companies enhance their internal emergency response provisions or guide the procurement of a professional third-party supplier. Chemical companies in Europe are either advised – or legally obliged – to include a telephone number in the transport documentation for hazardous goods that can be used to provide advice during a chemical incident. Among the core requirements specified by CEFIC is the need to provide robust and reliable telephone infrastructure that can receive and handle calls 24/7, with fast connection to a chemical expert. This restricts the use of mobile phone networks as the sole or primary means of contact. The guidelines state that the emergency responder should have access to the relevant data sheets and be able to provide proportional advice tailored to the circumstances of the incident. According to the new guidelines, this should be provided by a trained technical expert who has knowledge and tactical awareness of chemicals, chemical behaviour, and hazards across a range of incident types. The new CEFIC guidelines have been adopted by all National Intervention in Chemical Transport Emergencies Centres in Europe. The guidance can be downloaded at https://the-ncec.com/en/ resources/guidelines-for-level-1-chemical-emergency-response

double oil tank fire A fire that gutted two crude oil tanks in Terengganu, Malaysia likely occurred during maintenance works, say local reports. The fire occurred at a refinery owned by Kemaman Bitumen Company in the district of Kemaman, around 300km east of Kuala Lumpur, where heavy naphthenic crude oils are turned into naphthenic asphalt, atmospheric gas oil, vacuum gas oil, and naphtha. KBC meets nearly a quarter of domestic asphalt requirement in Malaysia. The fire broke out at about 6.15pm on 5 July in a tank holding 4,800 litres of crude oil. Shortly afterwards a second tank holding 13,700litres of oil became involved and started threatening a third. A fire that broke out in the third tank was reportedly quickly controlled. The three affected oil tanks at the six-tank facility contained a total of around 20,000 litres of crude oil. According to Terengganu Fire and Rescue Department, 8,000 litres of foam concentrate were secured from several industrial companies to add to the fire department’s own 6,000 litres of stock. Around 140 fire and rescue personnel from Terengganu and the surrounding areas worked to control the fire with assistance from members of the Emergency Response Team, the Civil Defence Force, and other partner agencies. At the height of the fire, plans were being put in place to evacuate a nearby village due to concerns around the toxic fumes. The fire was confirmed extinguished on the evening of 7 July. The results of the investigation into the causes of the fire were expected last month.

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battery fires solved?

help – hazmat incident

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